RICHARD WAGNER (1813 - 1883)

Tristan & Isolde, an orchestral passion

symphonic compilation by Henk de Vlieger, 1994

1. Einleitung

2. Isoldes Liebesverlangen

3. Nachtgesang

4. Vorspiel und Reigen

5. Tristans Vision

6. Das Wiedersehen

7. Isoldes Liebestod

Tristan & Isolde is often regarded as the most important opera composed in the nineteenth century. It is also regarded as the beginning of modern music, because for the first time in history tonality in the work is called into question. Among Richard Wagner's own works, it is often praised as the most beautiful work he ever composed. The music is about love, about an all-searing passion, about the mystical desire gripping two people. The story itself (based on Gottfried von Strassburg) can be typified as 'medieval', with little action and a great deal of inner drama.

At the request of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, percussionist and arranger Henk de Vlieger made his third Wagner arrangement: Tristan & Isolde, an orchestral passion. Following the proven method used in two earlier arrangements, he selected here, too, the most important orchestral excerpts from the opera and put them in a new symphonic context. With the aim of ensuring a continuous musical performance completely in the spirit of the composer, new connections between these excerpts were made, with due regard for Wagner's stylistic features.

In this arrangement, De Vlieger focuses attention on the main matters in Tristan & Isolde: on what goes on in the heads of the lovers. Secondary matters, such as the singing sailors and the manipulations of Brangaena and Kurvenal, are not included. In an excerpt in which there is some semblance of anecdote, the hunt at night, the music is placed outside of the orchestra and mainly describes the mood of Isolde. The same applies to the shepherd's air, in which a cor anglais solo reflects Tristan's emotional state. Seven selected excerpts thus together form a single line in which the essence, the inner drama, is reproduced in sound. As in the opera, the core of the work consists of the great duet from the second act, a hymn to love, the night and death, here called Nachtgesang.

The flow of the music of this arrangement displays a continuous 'ebb and flow movement'. The technique of gradual transitions, an art of which Wagner was so proud, then further determines the structure automatically. Carefully built up climaxes alternate with periods of gradual relaxation and completely inward-looking moments. Themes and subsidiary themes are exposed, developments and reprises are heard, without these components grouping themselves into a form to which one could give a name. The famous Tristan chord which one hears as early as the second bar and which constantly assumes a new form right up to the last moment, functions here as an all-linking element.

Tristan & Isolde, an orchestral passion was commissioned by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and produced for CD in 1994. The work is dedicated to Rob Overman, manager of the orchestra. 

The first public performance was given on May 4, 2002, in the Philharmonie of Berlin with the Deutsches Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin conducted by Kent Nagano.

Orchestra: 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, english horn, 2 clarinets, bassclarinet, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, basstuba, timpani, harp, strings 
Backstage: 6 extra horns

Duration: 64'00"

Published by SCHOTT Music


Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra / Edo de Waart
Challenge Classics CC 72338

Philharmonisches Orchester Hagen / Antony Hermus
Acousense ACO-CD 20707

Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Neeme Järvi
Chandos CHSA 5087

Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern /
Stanislaw Skrowaczewski 50182016

Staatskapelle Weimar / 
Hansjörg Albrecht
Oehms Classics

Registration Concert, October  2020,
in Coliseum de A Coruña

Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia

Dima Slobodeniouk


“[...] Without loosing Wagner’s grand concept de Vlieger, with this orchestra-only arrangement, has done just that - still fully conveying the opera’s stoic nobility as originally intended. It is obvious that de Vlieger as a musician and arranger has an imposing grasp of Wagner’s musical muse and Tristan & Isolde as well - he reconceived the latter as a purely aural concept free of visual distractions. This arrangement is pure musical drama for the naked ear whereby even the smallest of musical parts reflects the greatness of the whole; in the process he successfully achieves his goal with an autonomous drama of the orchestral kind – a Wagner without words!

This arrangement as conceived can exert from us the listeners a trance-like effect, irresistible and ineluctable both in a live performance (which I was privileged to attend some 2 years ago) and also here on disc, in either form the amplitude of the sound image captures our ears and minds. The emotional impact of Wagner’s symphonic music is unmatched for its coherence as well as for the clarity and illuminating wonderment of a great love story; to that end de Vlieger’s arrangement is constantly searching for mood and meter and finds it for our benefit with the aid of the gorgeous sound that Acousence has provided and a rather obscure German orchestra which is able to produce under the expert baton of Antony Hermus some glorious sounds belying their obvious professionalism and artistry. Little seems to have been lost but everything gained from an emotionally charged and intense live performance which shows at the very least the touted accuracy, clearness and extreme resolution of master recording at 24- bit/192K, even after bit-mapping down to the CD format.

There is no question in my mind that this is the best digital stereo CD I have heard in my life, one capable of conveying the smallest of aural nuances, the full breadth, depth and ambience of a live performance, all essential parts in the portrayal of a musical drama’s atmosphere. To my mind a great music work inadequately recorded is tantamount to failure; I do care enormously about the artistic content of a recording, however, just as much or more I also care for its aural impact and concomitant emotional involvement. In this sense I am very much on the side of Leopold Stokowski’s performance and recording philosophy: sound, good sound, is paramount. Fortunately, in this recording we have both artistry and sound.”

John Nemaric, Audiophile Audition, April 2, 2008


On request of choreographer Krzysztof Pastor, Henk de Vlieger rearranged his ‘orchestral passion’ in combination with Wagner’s Wesendonklieder into “Tristan”, a ballet in 2 acts, after a scenario of Krzysztof Pastor and Carel Alphenaar. This ballet had its first performance on March 31, 2006, by the Royal Swedish Ballet in Stockholm. In 2009 the ballet was produced again by the Polish National Ballet, Teatr Wielki in Warsaw and in 2012 by the Lithuanian National Ballet.